Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith
Reviewed by Jennifer Burns Lewis
Sam Wells’ new book, Be Not Afraid, is a powerful antidote to the fear-based news and views so prevalent in our time. These short essays read like sermons – very good sermons – grounded in scripture and bringing to life some important insights and reminders about courage, authenticity and candor. A person seemingly acquainted with despair and fear, Wells writes from a heart-felt place of deep reflection that would invite even the most intractable soul to reconsider what it means to live in the world today as a person of faith.
There are a thousand memorable statements in these essays, which will likely end up quoted in the sermons of others. “The quickest way to discover what or whom someone loves is to find out what they are afraid of. We fear because we don’t want to lose what we love. We fear intensely when we love intensely or when we think what or who we love is in real danger. So a world without fear wouldn’t be a good thing, because it wouldn’t just be a world without danger— it would be a world without love.”
Be Not Afraid should sit alongside Scott Bader-Saye’s equally helpful book, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Brazos, 2007) for it reminds us that fear, in and of itself, is neutral and an identifying emotion. One of the many rich things about Wells’s essays is the way in which they invite people out of the paralysis sometimes caused by fear, into engagement with the world and with God.
There is nothing syrupy or self-absorbed about these essays or their messages. Wells consistently points his readers in God’s direction and toward engagement with the world. In the essay, May They Find in You a Blessing, Wells takes up the blessing of Abraham and Sarah as an example of moving past fear for reasons that affect the community. In it he writes, “The point of blessing—in Genesis, in Jesus, and today—is that we should become people through whom others find well-being, peace, and joy.” (19) Wells is advocating here for the strong biblical mandate of being blessed to be a blessing to others, and powerfully counterbalances the notion that accumulating blessing is life’s point.
Be Not Afraid is divided into six parts. Each section explores some of things of which humans are afraid: death, weakness, power, difference, faith and life. As dean of the chapel at Duke University, one would naturally expect to discover illustrations directed toward students and the academic community. But as a pastor deeply rooted in parish ministry, Wells sensitively speaks to people of all ages, those overwhelmed by fear and those who have simply not found the courage yet to plumb the depths of life fully lived.
With humor, transparency, and delightful British aphorisms, Samuel Wells provides eloquent companionship for all of us who preach, teach, or simply live in the world hoping to find paths on life’s journey that lead us to a loving and unshakably hopeful God.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com